Birdman or the unexpected virtue of ignorance Alejandro Inarritu (USA 2014)

, 2015-01-15

Birdman or the unexpected virtue of ignoranceAlejandro Inarritu (USA 2014)Michael Keaton

Viewed Tyneside Cinema 20 Jan 15; ticket: £8.50

Showboat camera…

Inarritu’s film peddles a film version of magical realism, a dishonest melange of images where real and imaginary are seamlessly mixed to manifest the idea of a sort of omnipotency through will. Inarritu’s elision of the real and imagined/hallucinated accords with the dominant theme of contemporary Hollywood scripts: the individuation of life and the abandonment of the social.Hollywood’s scripts comprise multiple variants of the individualised: ‘story’ ‘dream’ or‘overcoming’.The Birdman scenario mines this worked out vein of vainglory. And the protagonist Riggan is an assimilation of these ‘dream’ vanities; an all too contemporary character,playing out all too contemporary conceits.

From his literary originated material Inarritu has contrived a confused story line.An SFX superstar wants to do his Hamlet thing by producing an on Broadway, ‘art’ play based on a Robert Carver short story: ‘What we talk about when we talk about love. ‘Of course this being 2014 not 1981 when the story was written, the point of the film story is melodrama and action. Inarritu replaces the passive ending written by Carver with the film convention of guns and screeching dialogue/ monologue (since no one listens to anyone all dialogue is in effect monologue).The story is confused because its subject focus is never clear. Love, schizophrenia, (split personality) and personal ambition all get mashed up to meet the needs of the camera as it doggedly pursues its quarry.Personal relationsare mixed in with magico realism - telekinesis and levitation (the movie’s first image), to produce the workflow of a seemingly seamless camera which follows through the action of the whole movie (more thoughts on this later).

For most of the film schizo Riggan (with his hallucinations visions or whatever) is compartmentalised into particular places in the shot flow where he occupies his own private space.His schizo mental states are not represented in his relations to other aspects of the script – relations to his play as a project, his family etc.Thiscompartmentalisation which asks the audience to put into the brackets the nature of his images of paranormal power, is breeched by the scripting offinal sequences which depict Roggan’s real or imagined ability to fly.In the last sequenceRiggan’s daughter looking for her father out of the top floor hospital window appears to either affirm the actuality of his being able to fly or colludes in Riggan’s schizo fabrication.Either way the film at this point becomes a fantasy,a product suitable for the delusions of an infantilised society.

Birdman’s confusion of subject matter is compounded by its jack-ass cod philosophy.Sententious meaningless truisms in the form of words (as beloved by Terrence Malick)run like a swollen sewer through the script.Epitomised by the film’s alternative title and the clapped out questions in the beginning: did you get what you wanted from this life?And Riggen's opening soliloquy asking: “How did we get here …? We don’t belong in this shithole…”. Roughtrade wiseacring a la Taxi Driver.But all these faux maxims in terms of the Birdman scenario, don’t mean anything, they lack grounding in the script or scenario.Like an aerosol cream layer of a cake, injected into the script they comprise only hot air.

The film is actually held together, both content and form, by the way the camera structures the reality experience for the viewer.The camera work comprises the illusion of capturing and composing the images as one seamless shot.The camera in general follows the action of Riggan or picks up tangential engagements on the side before returning to flow and picking up the protagonist again.It is a dogged camera never shaken off. In fact it is like a dog, with a dogs eye of view of what is happening. Inarritu is never able to establish an ‘eye’ or define any perspective in relation to what we are seeing. In fact we cannot see because the camera blocks our vision.

This camera is not a privileged spectator. Inarritu’s camera as an information carrier is like internet billboards or social media picking up multitudinous strands of comment and image but failing to put together anything that coheres or converges on a theme.This is a self satisfied camera.A camera that regards itself as the star of the movie.The camera is a showboater happy to jump up from behind itself and project itself into the limelight.The camera in itself replicates social media in as much as platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are in themselves the stars of their own shows.In themselvesthey are the signification of their usage.The medium is the message.The subject matter of Birdman, like that social media is mostly insignificant seldom going beyond indulgence of melodrama and ranting dialogues.The real message of Birdman is the perfection of a certain type of technical achievement and the omnipresence of recording. The camera is the star.

The key to Birdman’s success is that the film replicates something of the matrix of life in the era of social media (twitter starts to play an increasingly significant role in the script).Like social media, the technology is the star that feeds back to the viewer a world where: there is no centre no point of view, images and text seamlessly stream in from multiple inputs,data overload feeds constant acceleration of media and information in a confusion of voices and digital media feeds and accelerated emotionally driven feedback drives cycles of re-action.This is a dog world, a world of reaction.

My own response to Birdman is that it is a film that does not allow the viewer to see.Like social media its object is to wrap up the viewer in a delusional world that has a delirious quality of being real, but simply allows the user the more space to immerse themselves in its shadows.

Adrin Neatrour